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By Tolly P. Salz

To all parents out there who have ever tried their best, I just want to say that you are not alone. There are more of us than we'd like to admit—parents who, at the end of the day, have gone above and beyond to ensure as much "normalcy" as possible, even if it means holding one's tongue while enforcing rules and reinforcing positive behavior.

Today, I had to hold my tongue.

Trying to follow through with my "parenting Brad McCoy-style" (Click for Brad McCoy Article), I was being intentional about my son's sucking it up and following through with a previous commitment. He complained of a sore throat; I thought he was trying to weasel his way out.

It wasn't a pretty discussion.

Yet that didn't mean that a bystander—another mother—could sit there and frown disapprovingly at me and my child.

Yes, lady, I get it that I'm not perfect. I get it that you think my child is not perfect either, that he appears to be more like Eddie Haskell than Wally Cleaver. I get it that I'm not spouting off memorized mantras of "Love and Logic" at him. And I get it that it might not appear that I'm using my inside voice, despite the fact that we are outside. But here's what you don't get: this is what tough love looks like. And while there's nothing tougher than parenting—and while there's nothing more worth loving than a child—if you've never tried parenting and loving a child with special needs, please don't even bother to begin judging me.

I remember the first time I received such a glare. We were on a family vacation when my son, who was two at the time, had a full-out meltdown. As nothing could console him, I picked him up, tossed him on my shoulder, and took him—screaming and kicking and flailing about—back to the hotel room. A mother with a newborn looked shamefully at us; surely, her son seemed perfect in comparison to mine.

This wasn't the first time he was banished to his room, and I'm certain it won't be the last. But just because he has special needs doesn't mean he gets a special pass when it comes to behavior and following the rules—it just means we both have to work harder. And that's part of what makes it so tough: most days, it feels like we move two leaps forward, and then fall five steps back.

So when we're both judged unfairly for doing our best, it hurts. It's moments like these—when people stare, glare, and judge—that I just want to say, Stop.

I want to ask these other mothers if they have ever peered into the depths of their son's heart to behold the beauty, the kindness, the intense love that resides within. I want to ask these mothers if they have ever listened in wonder for hours to the incredible world that his brain can spin so effortlessly. I want to ask these mothers if they have ever had to spend more than their monthly salary on various therapies just in hopes that something might ease the pain that their child feels. I want to ask these mothers if they know how beautiful, and how painful, loving a child can be.

You see, when you judge my child based upon some preconception of how children should always behave, you fail to see who he really is—a child with a huge heart; an amazing mind; and a tender, tenacious spirit. I refuse to define him based upon his disability; rather, I choose to love him enough to set boundaries so that one day, he might flourish—with his whole self—no matter how tired we both become. For all this loving is hard work.

But that's not going to stop either one of us. I will hold my tongue today, but I cannot promise that I will be as silent tomorrow. We're not the Cleavers, but we're not the Haskells either. We're just like any other family trying to do its best, loving toughly, logically, intentionally, and intensely. And I know nothing as beautiful that exists in this world.

For the love of a child, the mind of a child, and the spirit of a child all deserve to dance with happy feet. And even if we don't always hear or understand the music that drives our children's inner worlds, that doesn't mean we withhold the love and discipline that are essential for their growth.

And that also doesn't mean that we judge those who choose to provide both—no matter how tired they appear to be. For it takes work to love this hard. And it's work that every child, that every parent, deserves, no matter what anybody else has to say.

I want to tell this mother that actually, we're doing okay today. I don't judge her because she might not have experience raising a child on the spectrum, but I might feel sad for her, thinking that just possibly she might miss out on some of the most beautiful moments that life brings to us. I'll bet she's never waited for her son to write his letters and words or to express his love, only to one day receive his original poem that reads: "I love you the silverest, the silver of the moon at night and the silver of the sound of bells."

I know this child was meant for me, for I understand this silver love. It doesn't wear pearls or high heels and greet you at the door at five o'clock with supper waiting on the table, June Cleaver-style. This silver love is messier: it's soft and hard simultaneously, and in turn, it can both hurt and heal. Yet when you take the time to shine it, oh, how it sparkles.

It's the kind of hard love that lasts a lifetime—for those of us who are lucky enough to experience it.

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